Breathing for Labor & Birth

Lamaze used to have a reputation as the childbirth education method that was all about the weird breathing. Some students come to class expecting to learn all kinds of breathing exercises, and others come hoping against hope that they won't have to hee-hee-hoo their way through classes each week!

Lamaze International has moved away from patterned breathing as a primary technique for childbirth, but focusing on breathing or using breath as one tool among many for labor is still very helpful for many laboring people.

The following are some simple breathing exercises that may be helpful for focusing and coping during labor.

Breathing Tips

  • Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. If you don't use any other ideas in this blog post, remember this one!
  • If you find yourself getting lightheaded or dizzy, change what you are doing! Change the pace or the depth of your breathing and focus on your exhales until you no longer feel lightheaded or dizzy.

Cleansing Breaths

Cleansing breaths at the beginning and end of each contraction are useful for your mental focus, and can also help your support team know when contractions are beginning and ending. As you feel a contraction begin, take a deep breath in through your nose, and exhale fully, letting your body go limp and melty, welcoming this next wave that's bringing you that much closer to holding your baby. When the contraction is ending, you'll take another deep breath in through your nose, and exhale fully through your mouth, letting that contraction go - you'll never have to do that one again!

Slow Breathing

Slow breathing is just like it sounds; slow, deliberate, full breaths with a pause at the top of each inhale and the bottom of each exhale. This breath helps to focus and calm your mind, and may be most useful in early labor when you can no longer walk or talk through contractions without pausing.

Light Breathing

As labor intensifies further, slow breathing may no longer be effective at the peak of your contractions. At this point, you can switch to a lighter, quicker breathing pattern. Breathe in and out through your mouth, at about one breath per second. To keep yourself from getting lightheaded, focus on your exhale instead of your inhale. Your in breath will be quiet and soft, and your out breath will be more noticeable, like a panting sound.

Breathing to Avoid Pushing

On occasion, you may feel like pushing during your labor when it might be better to avoid pushing - though this isn't very common. But if you are feeling an urge to push before your cervix is fully open, or your midwife suggests not pushing as your baby is crowning to help protect your perineum, you can use these techniques to avoid adding to your body's bearing down actions.

To avoid pushing, keep breathing - don't hold your breath! It can be helpful to keep your chin up as well. Mix up light breathing with a longer exhale every few breaths. This might be something like "pant-pant-bloooow," for example. Continue paying attention to your out breath instead of your in breath.

Breathing During Pushing

When you are feeling a strong urge to push or bear down, and there's no reason to avoid pushing (which is rare), using your breath can be very effective for bringing your baby down and out. Be sure to conserve your energy for the peak of the contraction, when the urge to bear down is, well, unbearable! Let the contraction build, breathing slowly to comfort, until you absolutely have to bear down. Then take a big breath in, tuck your chin towards your chest, and bear down! For some women it will feel better and more helpful to hold the breath in for a few seconds with each bearing down. For others, it will feel better to slowly release that breath, with a groan, moan or sigh. Do what helps you release your pelvic floor!

You'll likely have the urge to bear down a few times at the peak of each contraction. When the strong urge and sensations of the contraction pass, let your body be relaxed and your breathing be back to normal.

Other Ideas for Breathing

Ultimately, your breath is a tool for relaxation and focus - available to you no matter what else is going on. There are no right or wrong ways to breathe during labor. (Well, except hyperventilating! That's definitely not the right way to breathe during labor.)

If you're a yoga practitioner, you might have breathing exercises, or pranayama, that will be familiar and useful to you. Same thing if you regularly meditate. 

Think about how you use your breath to feel more calm, relaxed or focus in your life already, and experiment with bringing these habits into your baby's birth!


Breathing techniques are one of many coping techniques you will learn in a Lamaze childbirth education class! In Tulsa, you can join me and other families preparing for their baby's birth for a six-week childbirth class to learn many ways to find comfort in labor. Birth with Confidence classes are offered on an ongoing basis. More information, class dates, and registration can be found here.